The High Court has today agreed to hear a case brought by environmental campaigners claiming that the government’s plans for the North Sea oil basin are unlawful.
Three activists are arguing that the Oil and Gas Authority’s (OGA) new strategy for the continental shelf, which was released earlier this year, conflicts with its legal duty to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Justice Thornton said that the campaigners had “presented an arguable case” which was “in the public interest”.
The defendants have been named as the OGA and the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Kwasi Kwarteng.
The case is expected to be heard before the end of the year, with a decision made in early 2022.
Rowan Smith, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the campaigners, said: “With climate change high on the public agenda, our clients are perfectly entitled to ensure that the government is sticking to its commitments on net zero emissions.
“They believe that the OGA’s strategy unlawfully contradicts these commitments, and unlawfully allows production of oil and gas that does not benefit the UK economy as a whole.”
In reponse, the OGA said that its strategy “which includes net zero requirements on industry, is the primary tool the OGA has to hold industry to account on emission reductions.”
Under the new “North Sea Transition Deal”, the government and private sector will pour £16bn into the North Sea oil industry over the next decade in a bid to reduce carbon emissions.
As part of the deal, ministers will be able to block future oil and gas exploration on the continental shelf if it breaches environmental standards.
Despite its push towards renewable energy sources, the UK remains dependent on oil and gas resources from the basin.
Industry figures show that the offshore sector met about 45 per cent of the UK’s overall energy needs in 2019.